A combination of robust vaccination programs and strict rules for physical distancing may be enough to prevent recurring COVID-19 spikes without severely limiting people’s mobility, according to a model study.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, can help policy makers and health officials identify appropriate levels of intervention to keep COVID-19 outbreaks in check over time.
The study used anonymized cell phone geolocation data with epidemiological and coronavirus case data from China to model the potential impact of vaccination and physical distancing on virus transmission.
Researchers from the University of Southampton, UK, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong predicted the effects of different combinations of interventions on low, medium and high density cities in the country.
They said the impact of physical distancing on containing future resurrections from COVID-19 is highly dependent on the intensity of measures, population density and availability of vaccines across geographic areas and time periods.
The researchers wanted to better understand the relationship between these factors.
They predict that in most cities, vaccination programs and physical distancing together will be enough to contain virus resurgence without imposing restrictions on staying at home.
In the study, containment was defined as maintaining a low transmission rate or an R-number below one, which means that one infected person does not pass the virus on to more than one person.
The researchers found that cities with medium and high density populations need to be both vaccinated and distanced to prevent future intense waves of COVID-19 until herd immunity is achieved.
Herd immunity occurs when large numbers, usually 70 percent, become immune to a contagious disease after being infected.
However, the team suggests that low-populated cities with effective vaccination could cut transmission completely without the need for physical distancing.
In all cities, according to the researchers, full lockdowns would no longer be required to stay at home.
The results also suggest that vigorous physical distancing measures performed for short periods of time may be more effective than mild, longer-term measures.
“Our research provides a framework and set of findings that can be used by policymakers and health authorities to identify appropriate levels of intervention to keep COVID-19 outbreaks at bay over time,” said Shengjie Lai, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton.
“Although our study is based on data from China, our methods and results are applicable to cities around the world with similar population densities and similar social contact patterns,” said Lai.
The researchers found that previous studies have assumed that people who limit their mobility proportionally reduce their social contacts.
However, this is not necessarily the case, and as more SARS-CoV-2 vaccines go online, there is an urgent need to understand the relationship between these factors.
The researchers acknowledge some limitations of their study, such as the lack of data on the contribution of hand washing and face masks, as well as vaccine supply challenges.
However, they emphasize that their approach can be quickly adapted to provide near real-time data to meet emerging time-sensitive needs.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)